Sunday, January 21, 2024

Speaking of Which

Lots of stuff below. No need for an introduction here.

Top story threads:


Genocide watch, around the world: But mostly in Washington.

Trump, and other Republicans: Trump's sweep of the Iowa caucuses was easily predicted, and seems definitive, but 52% of practically nothing against practically nobody doesn't exactly impress as rock solid -- the glut of endorsements suggest that, at least among Republican officeholders, Trump is more feared than loved. Trump looks good to win New Hampshire next week with a similar near-50% split, but this time with DeSantis way behind a very second-place Haley (Jan. 20 poll averages: Trump 48.9%, Haley 34.2%, DeSantis 5.2%). Then comes South Carolina, where the polling shows: Trump 60.9%, Haley 24.8%, DeSantis 8.9%. I expect Haley and DeSantis to hang in through Super Tuesday -- DeSantis can expect to do about as well in Florida as Haley in South Carolina, which is to say not much -- where the current national polls should be indicative: Trump 66.2%, Haley 12.3%, DeSantis 11.1%. After that it's all over, which should leave Trump plenty of time for courtrooms.

PS: I wrote the above before this [01-21] Ron DeSantis ends presidential campaign, endorses Trump. Given that there are no significant policy differences between Republican candidates, the standard reason for quitting is that your backers pulled their money, which was clearly in the cards. Quitting now and endorsing Trump avoids Tuesday's embarrassment, and gives him a chance to claim a bit of Trump's margin (maybe even the whole margin, if it's slim enough).

Closing tweet by Will Bunch:

It's so tempting to pile on the Ron DeSantis jokes but I keep thinking about the Black voters he had arrested, the kids who had to leave New College, the migrants he tricked onto that plane - all for the sake of the worst campaign in American history. It's actually not that funny.

Biden and/or the Democrats: I haven't seen much comment on this, but the Democrats' decision to cancel Iowa and New Hampshire left the impression this week that only Republicans are running for president in 2024. Biden would certainly have won landslides in both states this time -- after losing both in 2020, only to have his candidacy saved by South Carolina. I suspect that the reason they did this was to deny any prospective challenger a forum to show us how vulnerable Biden might be. As a tactic, I guess it worked -- it's highly unlikely that Biden won't get enough write-in votes in New Hampshire to clear Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson, and even if he doesn't, it's not like he was actually running -- more a case of New Hampshire just being spiteful jerks (which, as a long-time Massachusetts resident, I can tell you isn't a tough sell). Still, it feels like they're sheltering a lame horse, thereby wasting the opportunity to see who really can run. So while a Trump-Biden rematch looks inevitable, both candidates are in such precarious shape, with such strong negatives, that it's hard to believe that both will still be on the ballot in November. With no serious primaries, and leaders ducking debates -- even Haley has got into the act, figuring DeSantis isn't worthy of debate in New Hampshire, even though she's regularly mopped the floor with him so far -- 2024 may turn out to be a vote with no real campaigning. That may sound like a relief, but it's not what you'd call healthy.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [01-19] Diplomacy Watch: Zelensky's lonely calls for 10 point peace plan: He's still making maximalist demands, including "withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory and the prosecution of Russian officials for war crimes."

  • David Rothkopf: [01-19] The GOP is actively supporting Russia's Ukrainian genocide: So, if this guy thinks Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine, why isn't he up in arms against what Israel is doing in Gaza? What Russia is doing is criminal and reprehensible on many levels, but it's not genocide, by any stretch of the imagination. That Russia "openly wishes for the end of the Ukrainian state" isn't even true. They want regime change, to a regime that's friendly to their interests, but if that counted, the US would be guilty of genocide against at least thirty nations since WWII. As for "kidnapped and indoctrinated hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children," I don't know what you'd call that (let alone whether it's true; it's possible they just moved some children out of the war zone, for their safety), but it's not genocide. Putin might even argue that intervention in Ukraine was necessary to protect ethnic Russians from Ukrainian nationalists -- the term he used was "Nazis," which wasn't quite right but is not totally lacking in historical reference -- but while Ukraine may have behaved prejudicially against ethnic Russians, that too had not remotely risen to the level of genocide. To have any usefulness, the term "genocide" has to denote something extraordinary -- as is the case with Israel's demolition of Gaza.

    He is, of course, right that Republicans don't care about Ukrainians. They also don't care about Russians. They don't even care about Americans, or for that matter even their own benighted voters. They just want to win elections, so they can grab power and dole out favors to their sponsors, while punishing their enemies. But for some reason they all seem to love Israel. Maybe because they've set such a role model for how to really smite one's enemies?

Around the world:

  • Ellen Ioanes: [01-14] In Taiwan's high-stakes elections, China is the lower.

  • Joshua Keating: [01-13] Taiwan elects Lai Ching-te, denying China's hopes for reunification.

  • Paul Krugman: [01-18] China's economy is in serious trouble. What's the evidence here? That a 5.2% GDP growth may have been politically fudged? That Chinese are investing 40% of GDP instead of spending it on consumer goods? That they may have a real estate bubble? That the population decline reminds him of Japan in the 1990s (which, he admits, wasn't as big a disaster as predicted, but is Xi smart enough to manage it as well?). Finally, he worries that, "scariest of all, will [Xi] try to distract from domestic difficulties by engaging in military adventurism?" China's actual record on that account isn't half as scary as Biden's, whose "soft landing" on inflation owes no small amount to the primed business of making rockets and bombs, and shipping LNG to supplant Russian gas sales to Europe.

Other stories:

Chris Armstrong: [01-08] What if there were far fewer people? I mention this mostly because I had cited a NY Times piece by Dean Spears, The world's population may peak in your lifetime, but searched in vain for an adequate rejoinder. One could make more points, but this, at least, is a start. It is well known that population growth alarms -- most famously those by Malthus and Ehrlich -- were easily exaggerated into doomsday scenarios that have at least been dodged, even if their logic has never really been refuted. By the way, the "cornucopian" counter-theories have rarely if ever been tested, mostly because no one takes them seriously. (For a recent discussion of Malthus, see J Bradford DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century.) Population growth is something we have a lot of experience coping with, but make no mistake, it is a strain that always requires compensatory changes.

As for population decline, that's rarely occurred, and never been a serious problem. Certainly, it's not one that Malthus could imagine, as he was perfectly aware of the standard solution: have more children. Spears' conjecture -- that population will peak in 2085 then decline ("perhaps precipitously") thereafter, is far enough into the future as to be the last thing we should bother with (aside from, you know, the Sun turning super-nova, that is).

David Dayen: [01-18] An unequal tax trade: "The business tax credits in the Wyden-Smith deal are five times as generous as the Child Tax Credit expansion." This on the "bipartisan" bill that seems to be finally working its way through Congress. Also see:

Jackson Diiani: [01-21] Is America like the Soviet Union in 1990? It sometimes feels that way: "America's symptoms of decline are everywhere -- and history tells us what happens if we don't change course." Sure, you can make that case, and find plenty of pictures, like the abandoned diner used here, to illustrate the case. Or you could take the opposite tack, and while noting that there are things that need to be fixed up, those improvements are easily within out means, given a little will to do so.

This article starts with a question: "Who owns the parking meters in Chicago?" The answer is: "Morgan Stanley and the city of Abu Dhabi." A cash-strapped city tried to solve a small problem by turning to the private sector, turning it into a bigger problem. Privatization was the buzz word, sold on the promises of efficiency but expanding the reach of predatory capitalism.

Kevin T Dugan: [01-19] Greed killed Sports Illustrated. Greed kills everything. Related here:

  • Ezra Klein: [01-21] I am going to miss Pitchfork, but that's only half the problem: I land on Pitchfork 3-5 times a week (on average, just a guess), but rarely read anything there, and can't imagine missing it much. Of the list below, Vox is the only one I would miss.

    Sports Illustrated just laid off most of its staff. BuzzFeed News is gone. HuffPost has shrunk. Jezebel was shut down (then partly resurrected). Vice is on life support. Popular Science is done. U.S. News & World Report shuttered its magazine and is basically a college ranking service now. Old Gawker is gone and so too is New Gawker. FiveThirtyEight sold to ABC News and then had its staff and ambitions slashed. Grid News was bought out by The Messenger, which is now reportedly "out of money." Fusion failed. Vox Media -- my former home, where I co-founded, and a place I love -- is doing much better than most, but has seen huge layoffs over the past few years.

    News publications are failing too, and while some people are making a good living writing on Substack (including his increasingly vacuous co-founder Matthew Yglesias), most don't make any living at all. As Klein puts it: "A small audience, well monetized, is a perfectly good revenue stream." That's how these people -- at least the more successful ones -- think, with the corollary being: and if you don't cater to a rich-enough audience, you deserve to die. If we cared about democracy, we'd do something to make sure we had a reasonably well-informed and thoughtful citizenry. But "greed is good" went from being a dirty desire to a shameless motto in the Reagan 1980s, and has remained unquestioned even through Democratic administrations (with their nouveaux riches presidents), leaving the rest of us to live in greed's detritus.

  • Benjamin Mullin/Katie Robertson: [01-18] Billionaires wanted to save the news industry. They're losing a fortune. Save? More like "own," which is what they're doing. And as they've lost money they made way too easily elsewhere, like vulture capitalists in other industries, they've started to hollow out these venerable brands, until they're just empty shells, allowing nothing to grow in their place.

Elizabeth Dwoskin: [01-21] Growing Oct. 7 'truther' groups say Hamas massacre was a false flag: No use filing this under the Israel sections up top, as it's solely meant to muddy the waters. There is no reason to doubt that militia groups in Gaza, associated with but not identical to Hamas, planned and executed the attack. Israel has a long history of "false flag" operations, but this bears no resemblance to them. The precise scale and effect of the attack are still not clear, but "unprecedented" is a fair description, and the shock was deeply felt, although it quickly gave way to cunning political maneuvers. Israeli leaders had always responded to even the most trivial of attacks from Gaza with threats of extreme punitive violence, so they immediately realized this as an opportunity to implement genocide -- a consideration that had been cultivated for over a century, but only seriously pursued under the cover of the 1948 war (the Nakba remembered by Palestinians as their Holocaust, but never quite recognized as such by the world). The Israeli government quickly worked to mold world opinion -- at least among critical allies like the US, UK, and Germany -- to go along with Israel's destruction and depopulation of Gaza, which meant elevating the by-then-defeated attack to mythic proportions. Such disingenuity was bound to generate "conspiracy theories" like these. For now, they can be dismissed as nonsense, and/or conflated with other easily discredited theories (not least those belonging to antisemitism). But what they do correctly intuit is that there were deceitful political interests at work from the beginning, leaving us with little reason to trust what we are told.

Richard J Evans: [01-17] What is the history of fascism in the United States? Reviews Bruce Kuklich's Fascism Comes to America: A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture, which starts in 1922 with fascination and fear of Benito Mussolini and traces the use and abuse of the word ever since, noting that "over the years, the concept gradually lost its coherence."

Caroline Fredrickson: [01-19] Elon Musk's war on the New Deal -- and democracy: "The South African-born mogul is now trying to gut the 89-year-old National Labor Relations Board."

William D Hartung: [01-16] The military-industrial complex is the winner (not you): "Overspending on the Pentagon is stealing our future." A record-high $886 billion Defense appropriation bill, another $100 billion-plus for aid to Ukraine and Israel, much more buried in other departments. By the way, Hartung also has a "Costs of War" paper:

Doug Henwood: These are a couple of older pieces I found in "related" links. I don't especially agree with them, but they cast doubts on theories and approaches that sound nice but haven't been overwhelmingly successful.

Phillip Longman: [01-16] How fighting monopoly can save journalism: "The collapse of the news industry is not an inevitable consequence of technology or market forces. It's the result of policy mistakes over the past 40 years that the Biden administration is already taking measures to fix." I'm pretty skeptical here. Whatever Biden is doing on antitrust enforcement -- after decades of inaction, a bit worse with Republican administrations but still pretty much ineffective with Democrats in charge -- is going to take a long time to be felt. And the argument that "advertising-supported journalism might be the worst way to finance a free press except for all the rest" is worse than defeatist, in that it doesn't even allow the option of treating journalism as a public good, as something we could deliberately cultivate -- instead of just hoping it somehow pans out. The sorry state of journalism today has less to do with constrained competition than with the carnage due to relentless profit-seeking.

Louis Menand: [01-15] Is A.I. the death of I.P.? Well, it should be, and take its own I.P.-ness with it.

Doug Muir: [01-15] The Kosovo War, 25 years later: Things fall apart: Part 3 of a series, that started with [01-08] The Kosovo War, 25 years later and [01-08] The Serbian ascendancy.

Andrew O'Hehir: [01-21] Never mind Hitler: "Late Fascism" is here, and it doesn't need Hugo Boss uniforms: "Fascism has been lurking under the surface of liberal democracy all along -- we just didn't want to see it." Draws on Alberto Toscano's book: Late Fascism: Race, Capitalism and the Politics of Crisis. I'm struck here by the line about how fascism arises "to save capitalism from itself." But it does so by misdirection, never really facing up to the source of its disaffection, leading to its own self-destruction. Such analysis is kids' stuff for Marxists, who start with a fair understanding of the dynamics. Yet it's lost on conventional liberals and conservatives, who assume capitalism is just a force of nature, something they skip over to focus on abstractions (democracy, freedom, etc.).

James North: [01-18] What the media gets wrong about the so-called border crisis: "The mainstream press's dark warnings about a flood of migrants are underpinned by a staggering ignorance about where asylum-seekers are coming from -- and why they're fleeing for their lives."

Rick Perlstein: [01-17] Metaphors journalists live by (Part I): "One of the reasons political journalism is so ill-equipped for this moment in America is because of its stubborn adherence to outdated frames." Framed by a discussion with Jeff Sharlet. Also [01-18] Part II.

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-19] Roaming Charges: It's in the bag. Starts by pointing out the ridiculously low turnout at the Iowa caucuses, which among other things resulted in this: "Amount GOP candidates spent per vote in Iowa: Haley: $1,760; DeSantis: $1,497; Ramaswamy: $487; Trump: $328." Of course, that undervalues the free media publicity given to all, but especially to Trump. Roaming to other topics, here's:

+ According to Jeffrey Epstein's brother, Mark, Epstein "stopped hanging out with Donald Trump when he realized Trump was a crook."

Liz Theoharis: [01-18] Change is coming soon: "The powerful and visionary leadership of young activists is crucial in these times."

Michael Tomasky: The right-wing media takeover is destroying America: "The purchase of The Baltimore Sun is further proof that conservative billionaires understand the power of media control. Why don't their liberal counterparts get it?"

Sandeep Vaheesan: [01-16] Uber and the impoverished public expectations of the 2010s: "A new book shows that Uber was a symbol of a neoliberal philosophy that neglected public funding and regulation in favor of rule by private corporations." The book is by Katie J Wells, Kafui Attoh & Declan Cullen: Disrupting D.C.: The Rise of Uber and the Fall of the City.

Jeff Wise: [01-13] Who will rid us of this cursed plane?: Boeing's "troubled 737 Max," although that's just the most obvious of the problems with Boeing.

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